The Early Church and Judaism

In the third episode of Faith of our Fathers, Jonathan Brack and Charles Williams explore the growing tensions and eventual separation between Judaism and Christianity in the first century—explaining how Christianity came to be seen no longer as simply another sect of Judaism, and how this separation led Christians to fall into the crosshairs of the Roman Empire.


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Faith of our Fathers is a program designed to furnish the layperson with a working knowledge of key events in church history, to explore issues in church history from a Reformed perspective, and to consider the practical relevance of studying themes in church history without being merely pragmatic. Browse more episodes from this program and learn how to subscribe.

14 Responses

  1. Jeremy Poyner

    Really interesting episode, thanks! I wonder, does anyone have any sources on early Jewish Christians ceasing to circumcise their children and baptising them instead?

    1. Charles Williams

      There are no direct sources, Jeremy. Insightful question, though!

      There isn’t a lot written about baptism early on. The Didache talks about modes of baptism, but is silent on the baptism of children. There is evidence for infant baptism by the mid-second century: Irenaeus of Lyons mentions it as a passing remark, as if it is a given practice. And the fact that no major controversy erupts over the inclusion of children in baptism is, in my opinion, a telling feature. All this gels with the trajectory established in the NT (Colossians 2, for instance). (Of course, my Baptist friends would disagree!)

      1. Jeremy Poyner

        Thanks for the reply, Charles. I know this is more of a theological question than a historical one, but assuming that the early Jewish Christians thought baptism was for their children, do you think this would have negated them circumcising their sons also?

        The reason I ask is that, being Jewish myself, I’m thinking a lot about how my Jewish identity fits with being (broadly) Reformed, and what influence that would have on any family I may have in the future (eg. would it be a positive thing to circumcise my sons, not necessarily assigning sacramental value to it, but in order to maintain Jewish identity?).

        I understand I might be opening a can of worms here!

      2. Rob

        This was my same question having just listened to the podcast, so glad someone else asked it first! I’m a credo-listener and when you made mention in the podcast of circumcision giving way to believer’s being baptized and their children, I was thinking much the same thing: other than the paedo interpretation of Acts and household baptisms, are there any historical documents that show the practise of paedobaptism taking place.

        I think the Didache makes a fair argument for the credo view, actually, since it describes baptism taking place in running water following fasting. Not sure how many mothers would allow that for their babies… 😉

        Great podcast, by the way. Really enjoyed this, and looking forward to more!

  2. How do you know that pre-Constantinian Christians did not lean more toward pacifism? Also, could you provide some sources for your point that Christians would not take up arms with the Jews? I would like to look into that further.

    1. Charles Williams

      Good question, Chris. Keep in mind that we were simply talking about Christianity through roughly the year 135 AD. “Pre-Constantinian Christianity” covers a much longer time span (till 313).

      That being said, I don’t know of a single recorded instance of Christians choosing to take up arms against Rome. In fact, in Justin Martyr’s _First Apology_, one of his main points is that Christians made for the best citizens of the state. In the early second century, a Bythnian governor named Pliny wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan making similar remarks: he has no problem executing Christians, but isn’t quite sure why they’re doing so, because they haven’t done anything illegal or treacherous.

      I commend Henry Chadwick’s _The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great_ for further reading on the subject. I think the issue is addressed somewhere around chapter three, if I recall.

  3. I have some friends who have been seduced by a belief system that is in competition with Christianity – I don’t even know what to call it. Essentially, the idea seems to be that biblical religion is Jewish and Judaic, including Saturday worship, Jewish feasts, food laws, etc.. My friends still claim to have faith in Christ, but their understanding of biblical religion seems to be arrested in the Mosaic economy. For example, they even believe that the point of Acts 10 is that Peter, et al, are now allowed to enter the homes of Gentiles in order to tell them about the gospel – not that the clean/unclean theocratic distinction has been eschatologized.

    Here are some of the websites they seem to be getting their ideas from:

    Some of these are obviously anti-Christian in that they reject Jesus as the Messiah and the New Testament as the Word of God. But the last one is especially confusing. In light of this podcast, do you have any resource to which you could refer me to help with this?


    1. Jonathan Brack


      I would say to get a good commentary on Galatians: like Ridderbos. Other than that I would say to re-read Calvin, Bavinck, Boston, Vos and Ridderbos on the Old Testament flowering into the New Testament.
      Also, Beale’s New Testament biblical Theology would be a helpful read.

      If you want a know out blow for anything approaching Judaizing tendencies I would suggest both Kline’s Kingdom Prologue and Gaffin’s article in “Theonomy: a Reformed Critique.”

      IMHO Gaffin makes leaves “Judaizing” with no exegetical exits.

    2. Patrick

      Wouldn’t walking them through The book of Hebrews be helpful? It argues from the lesser (Old forms and shadows) to the greater fulfillment in Christ. Christ is the greater Prophet, Priest, King, Mediator, Sacrifice… Because the greater came there is no need of the lesser things that at best pointed to the reality.

      BTW, I am enjoying Faith of our Fathers.

      1. Jonathan Brack

        Yes, Patrick.

        Thanks. Owen’s commentary on Hebrews as well as Calvin would serve this very well.

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